My MBD Experience.
(& what to do if you think your ig might have it.)

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Pugsley's Story

How it all started:
Well, it all started on Monday, June 29th. Pugsley was acting perfectly normal, eating like a pig just like usual. Then I gave him my leftover corn from lunch. It was a rather large amount, at least half a cup. There was also a tiny bit of mayo and chicken. I know, a big no-no, but it was a VERY small amount of chicken/mayo. I never figured it would hurt him.

On Tuesday when Pugsley defecated it was really nasty, undigested veggies (on hindsight this may not have been feces but vomit). VERY NASTY. On top of that he was very listless and lazy. I didn't actually figure this out until Wednesday morning since I didn't check on him on Tuesday night after work. I was a little worried but I gave him a day to come around since he had been fine the day before. On Thursday morning I started to freak out because Pugs was definitely not himself.

My quest for the perfect vet:
It was then that I started my quest for the perfect vet. I had already been to 3 different ones in Connecticut over the years for various other problems (not all iguana related, but herp related) and was not happy at all with any of them. Some of them even professed to be Bird/Herp vets. One of them had even wanted to anesthetize Pugsley just to look in his mouth! Now I was freaking out because my favorite (I know, we aren't supposed to have favorites) was quite ill and I didn't want to bring him to any old vet for fear they would prescribe the wrong treatment. The worst part was that I knew that when reptiles begin to appear sick they are probably very far along because in the wild they disguise illness to appear outwardly healthy. Anyway, after pawing through the most recent pile of herp magazines I came across a vet that was at least in a neighboring state, Massachusetts. The magazine I found her in is the one that I consider to hold the best herp information so I hoped that she was good. So I called her.

When I called her and described the problem over the phone she seemed very good and asked all the right questions. We talked about diet and it seemed that that was ok. She was of the opinion that the corn and possibly the mayo had imbalanced his G.I. tract enough to give him problems. She advised giving him fluids and feeding baby food if I could. I made an appointment for Saturday morning, July 4th. (She is an hour and a half away so I couldn't just run over there.) Since he had been acting perfectly healthy right up until Tues/Wed. and he was of a very healthy weight we figured he would be ok till then.

On Thursday in addition to water I had given a small amount of Gatorade too. Friday morning Pugsley defecated a very nasty, smelly, watery stool right where he had been sleeping. That really frightened me because he always at least had made an attempt to get to his "toilet tank". It was really messy and was tinged with red (from the Gatorade we are assuming). He also was just laying around not moving much at all with his eyes closed much of the time. Of course I immediately jumped to the conclusion that it was blood in his stool and freaked out and called the vet again. She seemed to think that it might be the Gatorade and told me to stop with the red food for now which I agreed with and tried to stop freaking out.

Friday I fed him some baby food green beans and peas with a small turkey baster. It worked pretty well. He didn't spit any out. I also gave him water that way. I was putting him in the tub several times a day to make him go to the bathroom at this point too.

Saturday morning when he defecated in the same spot where he had been sleeping it was slightly better consistency with a green tinge instead of the red so we think it was definitely Gatorade the first time around. It was still smelly, messy and hardly digested though. I was never so happy to be on my way to the vet. I was really worried by then!

At the vet on Saturday it was determined that Pugsley was quite dehydrated. Even though I had given him liquids he had been pooping them all out apparently. She also worked out a very old abscess from one of his femoral pores. It was about ready to come out on it's own anyway. He (Pugs) had walled it off and it wasn't infected at all which was good. It was kinda nasty though because it was HUGE! It was a solid mass at least 1/2x1/2 inch long. Anyway that went ok until we got home. At home it started to BLEED! I'll get to that in a minute though. The vet spent 2 hours with Pugsley looking him over and rehydrating him with sub-cutaneous fluids (administered with a needle). She told me that I would have to do the same at home on Sunday. I was less than thrilled so Pugs got a double dose right then and there.  She also prescribed Baytril for any infection that he might have and because now he had a hole where the abscessed pore used to be. She made me feel better. She said that he should perk up a bit by night time after the sub-cutaneous fluids.

The nightmare worsens:
I took him home and fed him some baby food again and some more water. I was so afraid of the dehydration! He actually looked slightly better Saturday evening. We successfully got a pill down his throat. (My better half  is not so thrilled with having to pill a lizard!) Unfortunately Sat. evening the hole from the abscess started to bleed. It had oozed before but it got worse. I only panicked a little and called the vet. I put a Band-Aid on it for the night and the bleeding stopped.

Now, here is the stupid part. I put Pugs in the tub on Sunday morning. Dumb, dumb, dumb! The hole didn't bleed in the tub, but when he got out I tried to wrap him in the towel mummy style so I could do the needle hydration thing. The hole started to bleed like crazy after he rubbed against the towel! By, like crazy, I mean he dripped out a little one inch puddle pretty quickly. I was freaking out. I applied pressure with a Band-Aid and got him back to his room. Then I tried other Band-Aids in various configurations. He was still bleeding. I totally freaked out! I didn't know what to do. For one thing it was in a very bad spot. Under his thigh and next to his vent. Hard area to Band-Aid and Band-Aids don't stick to wet lizards any better than they stick to wet humans; worse even. He was dripping pretty steadily. The warm water and the towel had combined to make the blood really flow. Whatever you do, if your reptile is injured don't bathe them!! I should have known better!

Anyway, we got that under control for the most part by sheer luck, because we didn't have any gauze or tape like the vet suggested over the phone. The Band-Aid and pressure worked. That was fine for a few hours. Then for some reason, I don't know what because Pugs never moved from the spot he had been in all morning, it bled again. I freaked again and put on the newly purchased gauze and cloth tape as best I could. It doesn't stick much better to a dry lizard than a wet one if you ask me. Again, I got it under control with the gauze after totally freaking out.

I think we were up to Sunday July 5th by now. I had tried unsuccessfully to get a Baytril down his throat in the morning after the bleeding incident. I was about to give up. This was definitely a day from Hell. Just as soon as I thought he was out of the woods on the bleeding thing, it flares back up. After all that, I spent the day checking in on him constantly, driving him crazy. Since I never did the sub-cutaneous fluid thing I tried to make up for it with oral fluids consisting of watered down baby food and plain water. He took quite a bit actually. By evening he was looking quite fat. Then I finally, successfully got 2 antibiotic pills (the Baytril) down his throat by grinding them up and mixing them with banana baby food. The vet had been very firm on the phone about this. If I couldn't get the pills in him somehow I was going to have to admit him and I didn't want to take him out of his environment.

I can't tell you how emotionally screwed up I was through all of this. Up until now I was under the impression that I had been doing everything I could husbandry wise. For the next couple of days I kept force feeding him but he didn't seem to improve. He stopped pooping altogether (we assumed because he was so emptied out from the diarrhea). Remember that at this point we were still assuming the corn/mayo was the culprit.

The following Tuesday, July 7th I took Pugs up to the vet again. She said he looked better than before but he was a little dehydrated still. And he still wasn't eating on his own. She stitched up the open pore with 2 stitches so that looked a lot better and was a load off my mind. She also rehydrated him with the sub-cutaneous fluids as I couldn't handle giving them to him that way. She also took a little blood to send off to a lab to have analyzed. The results were to be back the next day. I continued the force feeding.

I continued to feed Pugs with the turkey baster all that week; changing over to a mixture of low sodium V8, collard greens, romaine and baby food mixed to a pulp in the blender. He didn't poop until Thursday morning. Man, was I happy to see that!

The diagnosis:
The blood work also came back on Thursday. The results concluded that there is in fact an infection which is being treated with the Baytril. It also said that his calcium to phosphorous ratio was way out of whack. It was like 1:2 instead of 2:1 like it should be! I was mortified! He was showing the signs of Metabolic Bone Disease! I was horrified!

The guilt that I felt that day was incredible. I beat myself up pretty badly. I couldn't believe that I had done this to him; me, the one that tells others how to care for their igs... I was shocked and appalled at myself. After thinking about it non-stop for a couple of days I came to realize that I has intended to be feeding him correctly but had slacked off very badly on the diet. Putting it plain and simple I had gotten very lazy. In reality I had recently been feeding only about half of Melissa Kaplan's diet, the half that by itself is woefully out of whack on the Ca:P ratio. I was feeding almost no greens (some, but not a lot) and a lot of the salad that consisted of green beans, sweet potato, carrot, peas, squash etc. By itself this was so calcium deficient. At the time I didn't realize it but on hindsight I see a terrible pattern that was a downward spiral from a great diet to a very deficient diet in a short amount of time. When this whole thing started I gave the vet the impression that I was feeding Pugs correctly because in my head I was, the intention was there I guess. So she never guessed MBD or a calcium deficiency until after that blood work.

I took him on a 2 hour journey to Massachusetts that Friday (July 10) night to get an x-ray done. That went as well as expected. It only took them 3 shots before they got a good one (when he didn't move). The x-ray showed that his bones were fine (not decalcified) for the most part but that he did have at least 2 broken ribs. I knew that he had fallen about 3 days before he stopped eating. But I hadn't really tied that together with the not eating. My picking him up constantly for the previous 2 weeks must have been quite painful for him. Another reason not to eat.. The vet and I discussed Pugs' problem at great length. The pain from the broken ribs could cause him not to eat. MBD could cause him not to eat as that can be painful when the calcium is being taken from the bones all over the body.

The Treatment:
She (the vet) prescribed a liquid calcium supplement that is to be given twice daily (Neocalglucon) and to continue to force feed the pureed food with the turkey baster. The following day was bad. I had thought that he looked like he might eat on Friday but the next morning he showed no signs of  even thinking of eating. I pureed some mustard greens in the blender along with the V8 but I think it was too strong for him. He threw it up soon right after I fed him, along with the Baytril tablet. I waited about 2 hours before trying again; this time with the old mix of collards, V8 and baby food, but the threw a little of that up too along with the calcium supplement. I was beginning to get quite frustrated. I started contemplating admitting him to the vet if he didn't start eating on his own pretty soon. He hadn't eaten on his own for about 2 weeks now. It was bad enough when I was force feeding him but to have him throw it up was too much. At that point I was beginning to think he was never going to eat because now he would think that all food would make him sick.

All I could do at this point was try and keep the supplement, the Baytril, and some food in him. He was losing weight noticeably and I was quite worried. (My phone bill to Massachusetts was going to be quite large!)

For the next week or so I continued the force feeding. Force feeding is actually an ugly word for it. I would put the turkey baster in his mouth, not down his throat and he would swallow on his own. But the food had to be put in there. He wouldn't take any on his own out of a dish. There was no more throwing up. The mustard greens must have been the culprit. I had continued beating myself up about the calcium deficiency pretty badly by now. I tried to get past that and just continue to care for Pugs. He was getting 2 doses of Neocalglucon daily plus the pureed greens. His calcium level HAD to be going up.

As that week wore on Pugsley was definitely looking and acting better but still was not eating on his own. He refused all food. I figured that all I could do at this point was maintain him on the pureed greens and keep feeding the liquid calcium and hope for the best. If he didn't start eating soon I thought we were going to have to investigate further. This couldn't go on forever and it seemed like it already had!

It was later that week that I called the vet again with my concerns about him not eating on his own yet. She suggested that maybe I was doing such a good job of keeping food in him that he just wasn't hungry. This made some degree of sense to me so I stopped the force feeding and only gave him the Neocalglucon 2 times a day, the Baytril and a little water. What do you know, 2 days later he ate 2 raspberries and a small amount of collard greens on his own. I was overjoyed!!! I don't think I had been so happy in a long time. PROGRESS!  After that I offered him more but he shook his head quickly back and forth at me which I have come to recognize as "no way".

Over the next few days Pugs continued to eat on his own. Not a lot but enough to keep the turkey baster force feeder away. We still are not certain why he refused food for so long all of a sudden. The corn/mayo thing probably made him feel really icky at first and he may have been afraid to eat. Then I believe that the ribs might have hurt so much that it may have hurt to eat.. After all the Neocalglucon that I put in him and the ribs started to heal he must have felt good enough to eat. Actually he might have eaten sooner if I hadn't been so gung-ho on keeping his belly full all the time!

I continued with the Neocalglucon until it was gone (about another week and a half). Pugsley was now eating a diet that consisted mostly of greens with a very small amount of less calcium rich foods for variety. He wasn't eating a whole lot but at least he was eating. About 5 days after I stopped with the Neocalglucon I took him to the vet again for blood work. When that came back his Ca:P levels were at 4.5-1 believe it or not. That was twice what it should be. The people at the lab were actually concerned that his Ca level was too high!

Now we knew that his diet was more than straightened out I started to vary it a bit more, adding a few more lower Ca items such as a mix of green beans and squash to his greens. Now, I should add here that Pugsley has become extremely picky since this incident. I don't know why because before this happened he would quite literally eat anything I put in front of him. I tried to be strong and made him eat a balanced diet. I tried not to freak out when he wouldn't even touch his food.

The outcome:
Well, as it stands it is now October of 1998. It has been 3 months since this whole thing began. It hasn't been easy. Pugsley has refused food off and on. He still only eats about half of what he was eating before. He is definitely not the same lizard that he was before all of this began. I have a sneaking suspicion that there may be something else wrong in there too but am awaiting my next appointment with the vet to find out for sure. He is going to be x-rayed again and another set of blood panels will be taken to make sure his Ca:P levels are still up over 2:1.

Pugsley is still eating a diet that is more greens than anything else. I want his Ca:P levels elevated until the ribs heal at least. After the next x-ray I may back off a little on that though.

On another note I believe I have figured out why he has been so lackluster in his eating habits since this whole thing started. I think that coincidentally this whole thing started when his breeding season started. Pugsley has never been one to show when his breeding season is. He is never really aggressive. But I was looking through his old records from the first year I had him (he was about 2-3 years of age at the time - prime puberty age) and it seems that from July-October of that year he was overly aggressive, bright orange, and ornery in general. Perhaps this year he would have reduced his eating anyway for breeding season???? Any comments are welcome on this subject.

The moral:
The moral of this story is, it would have been a lot easier on everyone and a lot less life threatening for my iguana had I just made sure his diet was correct to start with. I could have avoided MUCH emotional trauma to both myself and to him. I could have avoided stressing him to point that he still looks at me funny when I come in the room. I could have avoided paying a lot of money for the diagnosis, treatment and travel.

Also, this story illustrates how quickly an iguana can "go downhill". Honestly, the day before this all started he was acting perfectly normal, milling around his room, eating, defecating, etc. One day later all Hell broke loose.

UPDATE 10/19/98 - Well, now it is mid-October. I think that Pugs may be snapping out of it. I think his version of breeding season is coming to an end and his ribs must be feeling better. He is eating better and keeping his weight up. One thing I really wish is that I had a weight on him before this all started so I had something to compare to. It is definitely a good idea to weigh your animals periodically when they are healthy so you can see a difference if anything happens. In Pugsley's case I don't think he ever lost more than half a pound. I think he must have been around 8 pounds to start with. At the vet the first time back in July he was just shy of 7 1/2 pounds. Now he is over that. My scale stinks so it is hard to tell. I will have to wait until I go to the vet again to get a true reading on that. His eating habits have been so poor for the last 3 months I can't see how he would be much over 8 pounds.

UPDATE 11/13/98- OK, it is the middle of November. Pugsley is definitely feeling better. Ever since the last update in October he has been cruising around a lot more. He acts a lot more like his old self. However, he is still not eating. I really don't know what the problem is but he doesn't eat nearly the amount of food he was eating before this whole ordeal began. I'm lucky if he picks at his food every other day. I think, to some degree, that he has gotten fussy. He will eat wheat bread whenever it is offered but I try to only offer that once a week or so. He also really likes Mazuri Tortoise Diet which is good for him to an extent. But he needs to eat his greens more. I'll be very happy when he starts to really enjoy them again.

NEW UPDATE 4/13/99 - Now it is supposed to be the end of breeding season around here. Nope. Pugs is still bright orange and doing bad things to his stuffed "girlfriend". On a good note his ribs seemed to have healed quite nicely and he is as active as ever! I think we nipped the MBD in the bud and not much damage was done. He is still VERY fussy about eating. He only eats about every other day, which is very frustrating. I have resorted to feeding him mostly greens such as collards, turnip and dandelion greens. I add to that a blend of finely chopped green beans, pea pods, sweet potato, carrot, parsnip, squash for variety. I also have been feeding him 7-grain bread twice weekly to keep his weight up as it is the only think he eats with gusto. He is still skinny but is holding his own. Now, if breeding season would just come to an end....

Concerned that your ig may be suffering from MBD?
Check out these links to find out more!
Please read the First 2 Articles at the very least!

  1. What is MBD? Go to Melissa's Calcium Metabolism and Metabolic Bone Disease Page
  2. Go to Melissa's MBD Identification and Treatment Page to see if your ig is suffering.
  3. Carmen Iguana's MBD Pages for Comprehensive MBD Info.
  4. Melissa's Quick Ig Salad Recipe. Easy to make and helps prevent MBD.
  5. The Basking Spot's Iguana Pages....another excellent source for general Ig info.


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